Almost immediately after the tragic bridge collapse in Florida, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sent staff to the site to conduct an investigation. I admire these problem solvers whenever I hear about their work on the bridge, watch Sully or learn that they are en route to investigate a recent train or plane crash. They are wading into an area where emotions are high, the evidence is damaged or missing and the consequences of their work are great.
I often wonder what it takes to be an NTSB investigator, but I think there are parallels between the role and that of a coach. Both positions must have subject-matter expertise, along with the ability to assess a situation and draw conclusions based on observations of what is seen – or not seen. Both positions must be masterful at noting the details and minor variances from the norm. Both need to be able to make recommendations that improve future performance, even if it is unpopular to say them.
In the TED Talk by Atul Gawande (see dot #2013), he describes how he learned from the coach who observed his surgery – but the coach had to know the field intimately in order to give the recommendations for Gawande to hold his elbow differently or know how to reposition the light. Not just any outside observer can be helpful.
Coaches and the NTSB are knowledgeable eyes and ears with the sole purpose of seeing the situation for how it actually is – not how it was supposed to be, or how we think it was or even how we want it to be. They become highly focused on reality, providing a mirror back to the affected parties to describe the current situation with raw realism.
I hope you are never in a situation where the NTSB is actually needed rather I wish that you find yourself often with the gift of a coach who can bring an outside perspective to your work.